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Cube Design – M15 Cube Review

It’s set review season! Cube set reviews have historically been a little problematic, as the Cube format means infinitely many different things to infinitely many different Cube designers. I, however, run just a single Cube. It’s an extremely fast, 360-card, mostly singleton Cube. Intentionally or not, my card evaluations are informed by this context. I won’t try to guess whether a card belongs in a 720-card Cube. Or, as a friend recently put it, “I’d rather have a horse kick dirt in my face than read another rating that tells me Boros Elite is a ‘630 staple.’”

That said, to keep things interesting and digestible, I will provide verdicts for each of the cards I discuss. Consider these to be evaluations for Cubes with a power level similar to my own Cube’s.

Ajani Steadfast

As a 4-drop, mono-color Ajani, Steadfast is bound to draw comparisons to its O.G. predecessor Goldmane. In fact, this feels like a patch. The old Ajani effectively only had one ability, and that ability had a tendency to create miserable gamestates. Granting vigilance to your entire army made racing impossible.

Ajani Steadfast has actual play to it, and promises to deliver more engaging games of Magic than either Ajani Goldmane or Elspeth, Knight-Errant.

Verdict: Unless you’re on a strict power-max line, run it.

Dauntless River Marshal

Not too long ago I ran a Sejiri Merfolk in my Cube, and this comes from the same school of design. Depending on your view of multicolor cards, I think there’s an argument for Dauntless River Marshal as a Gore-House Chainwalker with an upside. The activated ability is expensive but potentially game-winning.

Verdict: Test if you’re on the blue-aggro line.

Hushwing Gryff

Aven Mindcensor has long been one of my favorite Cube cards. I admittedly do run a disproportionately high density of shuffle effects in my Cube, but the 2/1 flash flying body is often highly relevant. More importantly, flashing in a Bird to foil their plans is absurdly satisfying.

Cubes are chock-full of valuable enter-the-battlefield effects, but on the other hand, Cubes are chock-full of valuable enters-the-battlefield effects. Where Aven Mindcensor is asymmetric, Hushwing Gryff is an impartial mistress. It’s not going to be worth it to build an ETB trigger-free deck to exploit the symmetry, and there will undoubtedly be awkward times when your own Gryff risks stranding important cards in hand. Maybe that’s part of the beauty.

Verdict: Run it. But keep an eye on it. I know that sounds a lot like “test it,” but I want to take the optimistic approach.

Spirit Bonds

Spirit Bonds evokes memories of Mentor of the Meek. At times, Mentor would pair with multiple Gravecrawlers and Bloodghasts, but those times were few and far between. As my Cube has gotten faster, decks are increasingly constrained on mana. All too often Mentor of the Meek lived out its days as a Gray Ogre.

Verdict: Pass.

Soul of Theros (and Friends)

Power-level wise, most of these don’t compare to their Titan counterparts. Soul of Ravnica sits miles behind Consecrated Sphinx. Although I don’t advocate power-maximization as a guiding philosophy, by and large designers have tuned their Cubes to the strengths of the Titans. We’ve jumped through hoops to make aggro playable in a Titan-filled world.

The only Soul that really deserves consideration in such a world is Soul of Theros. Its ability is possibly more game-winning than Sun Titan’s, but is also comparably less interesting. I’m passing on the entire cycle.

Verdict: Pass.

Chasm Skulker

I’m considering Chasm Skulker, if only for the fact that I’ve replaced all my Preordain and Ponder effects with Brainstorms, due to their increased synergy and interactions with dozens of cards in my Cube. Among those is Lorescale Coatl, Chasm Skulker’s Snake cousin. I haven’t actually seen the Coatl in action yet, but once I make a verdict one way or another I assume Chasm Skulker will endure the same fate.

Master of Predicaments

Master of Predicaments’ designer David Sirlin has long been an inspiration of mine, and on my bookshelf sits a paperback copy of his book Playing to Win. I like the underlying design here, but wish the numbers were slightly more pushed. This guy usually isn’t hitting the red zone until turn 6, at which point mana becomes less of a premium and hands are starting to thin out.

Verdict: Pass (but I hope I’m wrong).

Polymorphist’s Jest

Like last block’s Hour of Need, Polymorphist’s Jest is a blowout waiting to happen for blue creature decks. Getting more than a card’s value out of Polymorphist’s Jest requires quite a number of things to line up favorably. Too favorably. I’m sure this card will generate great stories, but I suspect that most days you might just prefer the guaranteed value provided by Snakeform.

Verdict: Pass, then wait for other designers to let you know you’ve made a mistake.

Necromancer’s Stockpile

As one of the misguided few who tried to make Compulsion work in Cube, I can tell you the main benefit of the card was ditching unwanted lands and other narrow cards in the late game. Limiting the discard to creature cards does far more damage to the card than any incidental 2/2s ever could hope to make up for.

Verdict: Pass.

Borderland Marauder

If you were looking to a Gore-House Chainwalker that can chump block, this is it. Especially if you happen to run O-Naginata. That card needs all the help it can get.

Verdict: Run it.

Might Makes Right

Somewhere in a WotC set-design protocol is a mandate which requires that each set contain a “weird and bad red enchantment.”

Generator Servant

I love this card. 2/1s for 2 with an upside are always at least borderline playable, and have recently taken over red’s army with the likes of Lightning Mauler, Torch Fiend, Young Pyromancer, and even the lowly Firefist Striker (well, almost).

Generator Servant allows for insane openings, and can be interacted with via any creature removal spell ever printed. What’s not to love? The real puzzle is the haste granting ability. These days red’s finishers are nearly exclusively hasty (Thundermaw Hellkite, Zealous Conscripts) or don’t really benefit much from haste (Seige-Gang Commander). A hasty Inferno Titan is devastating, but the real value likely comes from pairing with other colors. Hasty Wolfir Silverheart? Yes please. Swing with Hero of Bladehold on turn 3? Check please.

Note that if you’re really cheeky you can use Generator Servant to cast two creatures and grant them both haste.

Verdict: Run it.

Goblin Rabblemaster

Red’s 3-drop spot isn’t exactly awe-inspiring, but I don’t know if Goblin Rabblemaster solves its woes. Maybe it builds you an insurmountable army. Maybe it sends 1/1s to their death like lemmings turn after turn. My gut is leaning toward the latter.

I know they’re not the same card, but 1/1 generating Young Pyromancer hasn’t quite lived up to my (perhaps overly lofty) expectations in Cube, but I’m going to take the bearish line here.

Verdict: Test it for one draft then cut it.

Act on Impulse

This is not a Cube card. But its design holds potential. About a week before Act on Impulse was spoiled, I proposed the following on a Custom Cube Card forum:

CARDNAME, R, Sorcery
Exile the top two cards of your library. Until end of turn, you may play cards exiled this way.

Two years ago, Carrie Oliver penned the article “The Problem with Blue” which discussed blue’s embarrassment of riches, stemming largely from blue’s 1-drop card selection spells like Preordain, Ponder, and Brainstorm. While blue gets one-drops, other colors all too often are given the likes of Lead the Stampede, Read the Bones, and Act on Impulse. Three-word 3-drops.

The above card is by no means broken. Not in a normal context. Casting it on turn 1 is pointless, and barring some strong luck you’re not going to get more than a land or a 1-drop out of it on the following turn. The longer a greedy red mage holds onto it, the more likely they are to yield card advantage.

Could it be broken in a Constructed setting? Perhaps. Ponder and Preordain occupy Modern’s Banned List. But in that uncertainty lies the essence of the problem. Wizards serves too many masters when designing sets. Standard, EDH, Modern, Block Constructed, Draft, Sealed. Pack Rat was reportedly an appeal to the casual audience, and Return to Ravnica Limited suffered. I think Wizards does a great job given their constraints, but I also think it points to where Cube and formats like Battle Box can shine, with a singular focus on gameplay.

Act on Impulse doesn’t deliver, but with Chandra, Pyromaster and Prophetic Flamespeaker, I am optimistic for red’s future. The color has been too narrow for too long.

Verdict: Pass.

Hornets

I hate hate these cards. I spent the last three years ignoring Hornet Queen as the bastard child of a Wizards summer product. Now they’ve stoked my ire by granting it “real card” status. Luckily, I’m not alone in harboring bee hatred.

“I’m not crazy about the flying and I can do without cards making four-plus token creatures with deathtouch.”
Mark Rosewater

Running Hornet Nest and Hornet Queen is a public declaration that you hate aggro and fun respectively. I know some designers are salivating over some Hornet Nest + Blasphemous Act combo, and I hope the joy they receive from witnessing it is worth the tedium of flying deathtouchers gridlocking the games where it doesn’t come together.

Verdict: Ugh.

Nissa, Worldwaker

There’s nothing wrong with Nissa per se, but she lives in the shadow of all comparable planeswalkers. Koth hits equally hard a full two turns sooner. Garruk Wildspeaker already ramps you to anything you could want to cast in Cube, and makes slightly smaller Beasts that don’t tie up your lands. Primal Hunter is an absurd value machine. A few years ago we may have welcomed Nissa with open arms, but I think she showed up a bit too fashionably late to this part.

Verdict: Pass.

Reclamation Sage

Ah, a card that excites no-one but pleases everyone. The only card we’ve had that hit both artifacts and enchantments before at this CMC is Harmonic Sliver, and Reclamation Sage thankfully doesn’t use up a precious gold slot.

Verdict: Run it.

Sunblade Elf

Like Dauntless River Marshall, Sunblade Elf is an acceptable beater with an upside. I don’t think the gap between this card and Kird Ape is all that high, and the pump effect should be highly relevant in a GW Little Kid deck.

Verdict: Run it if you need it.

Genesis Hydra

Genesis Wave never really worked here, but Genesis Hydra intrigues me. We trade the ability to hit lands for a cost reduction and a guaranteed vanilla creature. Not hitting lands isn’t highly relevant considering we’re not chaining Genesis Waves in Cube Conley Woods style. I don’t know if the improvements push it over the threshold of Cube playability, but I’ve been looking for more opportunities to get value out of pet card Rosheen Meanderer.

Verdict: Test it.

Scuttling Doom Engine

I don’t get the hype for this card. Kokusho has long ago lost its title as a Cube staple, despite being an evasive threat with a potentially game-ending death trigger. True, Scuttling Doom Engine (we’re stealing from the Yu-Gi-Oh school of naming now?) can be played by any color, but I can’t help but feel that every color has better options to present to drafters. Sometimes versatility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Verdict: Pass.

Meteorite

Open LSV’s set review, Ctrl+F “mana rock”.

Wrap-Up

Did I miss any cards? Sound off in the comments and I’ll write you a personalized review!

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